Monday, August 8, 2016

By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 12, 2016

With divine beauty comes dangerous power. Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon. But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

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Theseus and Helen by Vincenzo de' Rossi
I've a confession to make and I don't like beating around the brush so I'm just going to come out and say it. I've been avoiding this review for weeks and even now I can't help feeling that I've been holding off because I didn't want to say goodbye to Amalia Carosella's By Helen's Hand. Writing a review bookends my experience with almost every novel I read and this is one I simply didn't want to be done with.

Helen is the natural focus of the narrative, but Carosella's Helen is anything but typical. Forget all you know, or think you know about the face that launched a thousand ships because the Helen we see between these pages is not the siren of legend. Beneath Carosella's pen, Helen is a complex and genuine figure who's wants and desires make her a remarkably relatable protagonist. I can't imagine that adapting Helen and her mythic beauty to fiction that would appeal to modern readers was easy, but I feel Carosella managed to beautifully redefine this character as a woman of strength, intelligence, and depth.

Paris enjoyed a cameo appearance in book one, but I found his lover, Oenone, who debuts in By Helen's Hand absolutely captivating. I was equally impressed with other members of the supporting cast, notably Polypoetes and Odysseus, and I think that's part of what I like about Carosella's work. As an author, she puts a lot of effort into developing both her primary and secondary cast and I think that adds something very special to her books.

Finally, I want to note the ending of the narrative because those chapters caught me completely off guard. I can't go into too much detail or I'd give it all away, but I didn't see any of part of that twist coming and I was tickled by the fact that Carosella managed to pitch that kind of curve ball at her audience. We all know how the story plays out, but Carosella made it own in an incredibly creative and unexpected way. More than that, she did so without infringing on the classic tale and I've an incredible amount of respect for her for finding a way to be true to both her story and the one that inspired it.

I loved By Helen's Hand and would definitely recommend it other readers, but it should be noted that the novel picks up where it's predecessor left off and while it can be read as a standalone, I really wouldn't advise reading the books out of order. Helen of Sparta lays the foundation for By Helen's Hand and I think the relationships and drama in the second volume are best appreciated by those who know what each of these characters has been through.

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Pollux had not been able to meet my gaze from the moment the small basin had arrived. As if the sight of the water conjured images of my nakedness that he could not bear. My own brother, unable to look upon me without lust. It was as Leda had said all my life. This beauty, this supposed gift of the gods, was nothing more than a curse. A tool meant to drive men into madness.
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